How Biden, Trump Diverge in Their Approaches to China

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 31, 2020

News Analysis

The camps of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and President Donald Trump see China—the world’s second-largest economy—through very different lenses.

While both camps have presented a campaign agenda that’s tough on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—past dealings and comments paint a more contrasting picture.

Trump’s reelection campaign’s second-term agenda includes a specific section headlined “End our reliance on China,” which lists some key goals such as bringing back manufacturing jobs from China and holding the CCP accountable for its poor handling of the outbreak of the CCP virus, among others.

The Biden campaign repeatedly mentioned tackling China under its “Made in All of America” plan, which includes goals such as bringing back supply chains and reducing dependence on China by taking “aggressive trade enforcement actions.”

Americans’ view of China as a whole, particularly since the outbreak became a global pandemic, has largely worsened. A July Pew Research survey found 73 percent of U.S. adults viewed China unfavorably—an increase of 26 percent compared to 2018. There is a “widespread sense that China mishandled the initial outbreak and subsequent spread of COVID-19,” the authors wrote.

Biden on China

While on the campaign trail, Biden repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by China. At a campaign stop in Iowa last May, Biden said, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man.

“I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks,” he said. “But guess what, they’re not competition for us.”

Biden, as a U.S. senator, supported China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization, giving it permanent normal trade relations with the United States.

In a pitch to union members last May, Biden said, “We have the most productive workers in the world—three times as productive as workers in Asia.”

Biden also opposed the travel ban on China that Trump added in January in a bid to stop the spread of the virus, according to the Trump campaign.

“This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, and fear-mongering,” he said in March before reversing his position on the ban.

Biden’s relationship with Xi Jinping goes deeper. They got to know each other when Biden was vice president. In 2015, Biden noted that he and Xi “have had countless private discussions that go well beyond the typical talking points.

“I told the president [Xi] this after our multiple meetings—that I came away impressed with the president’s candor, determination, and his capacity to handle what he inherited.”

At a 2011 roundtable in Beijing, Biden said, “President Obama and I, we welcome, encourage, and see nothing but positive benefits flowing from direct investment in the United States from Chinese businesses and Chinese entities.”

U.S. intelligence officials recently concluded that Beijing wants Trump to lose. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said they “assess that China prefers that President Trump—whom Beijing sees as unpredictable—does not win reelection.”

Trump on China

Trump during the 2016 campaign promised to confront China over its unfair economic practices.

During his first term, Trump’s administration implemented an “all-of-government” national security approach to counter China’s infiltration of the United States, a large-scale effort not seen from previous U.S. administrations.

Trump has sanctioned Chinese officials on multiple occasions, including for supporting China’s new authoritarian national security law and for human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minorities.

A number of Chinese-backed companies have also been blacklisted by the United States over China’s human rights abuses.

In January, Trump signed a phase one trade deal with China. But in July, he said the relationship had been “severely damaged” and that signs of a phase two deal were slim. Trump also said a “complete decoupling” from China remains an option.

Under Trump, arrests of Chinese spies have gone up. No one had been charged with spying for China during the last four years of the Obama administration, while the Trump administration indicted four alleged spies in 2017 alone.

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently revealed that the bureau currently has more than 2,000 active investigations that trace back to the CCP, marking a roughly 1,300 percent increase in economic espionage probes with links to the Chinese regime.

He said the bureau opens “a new counterintelligence investigation that ties back to China every 10 hours.”

Other notable actions to counter China include ending the United States’ special relationship with Hong Kong, pushing back against China’s claims in the South China sea, and shutting down China’s Houston consulate.

Follow Bowen on Twitter: @BowenXiao_